Kallum - Technical University of Berlin

B Science/Arts
Semester 2, 2019
I didn't know what I wanted or expected, but in the end I got everything I could've hoped for and I'm left wishing it never ended.

Academic experience

First things first: German university administration is a comedic mess! It was a huge adjustment to get my head around the way University in Germany worked. Luckily, TU set me up with a buddy and there were some great exchange students I met early on and we all worked together to figure out enrolment and course selection. The international admin team at TU is also first class, they were quick to respond to every little anxiety I had and easily solved all manner of little problems that cropped up in my enrolment. 

Basically, we had to pick our classes ourselves from a master-list and then rock up to the first class out of the blue. If we liked the class, we had to tell our Professor to put our name on the class list and then draw up our own timetable ourselves later - do you have a clash? Too bad. Also, don't forget, you have to make sure that on the master list of courses you haven't missed attending a tutorial or lab, no one will hold your hand to make sure you get there in one piece! There was also no central online learning space like blackboard, so it was always up to you to remember to do work, hand it in (usually hard copy) and attend special dates. Once you're up to speed however, it really teaches you how to self-motivate and be independent, its a do-or-die feeling! 

In the end, I came to like the system. You really feel in control and it's nice to be totally rid of any feelings of being in school, rather amidst academic equals who are all motivated in the pursuit of pure knowledge. Also, the courses are totally different and some are extremely specific and unique. My favourite course was a Critical Design Studio Class; something I had never done or I've even heard of at UQ. It was totally out of my academic area but it taught me so much about critical thinking and presentation. That's one of the best bits about exchange, once I was approved within my faculty, it was largely up to me to pick and choose courses at all levels and freely experiment. It really helped to expand my knowledge of other faculties and consider other career paths and opportunities. This was definitely a strength of TU; they've recently put work into interdisciplinary studies and it truly shows.  

Otherwise when it came to classes, I never had one with over 8 people which was so different to the Australian system. Gone was the 1000 people lectures of CHEM1100 and in its place was a unique and intimate learning environment. I came to know all my professors very well which was wonderful and I was able to have a genuinely close friendship with some. In some other ways however, I felt like the courses lacked the holistic and broad nature you find in UQ courses. It's a different style, it has its ups and downs and I don't believe either is better than the other though.

Personal experience

What quickly became apparent to me during exchange, was that academic development took second stage to the personal growth I underwent when living in Berlin. When you're thrown into a new environment with hundreds of other like-minded and similarly aged people, it’s a perfect mix to meet amazing individuals and form really strong friendships. As someone who has always preferred to maintain the status quo and the security of my comfort zone, it was so pleasantly surprising to find myself easily able to break out and become someone new and more social. It was also awesome to meet people from another continent from myself, everyone had interesting stories to tell about their homeland and I never had a dull conversation. It is truly an experience like no other, even looking at it externally It’s amazing to see groups of like-minded people coalesce and form bonds and that even now, a world away, are still going strong.

My closest new friend in all of this however, was Berlin itself. Berlin is by far and away the most incredible place to live. As a student of History as well as of Science, I could not take a five minute walk out of my apartment without standing in awe at the stories of this city played out on street-corners, on billboards, across walls, in art galleries and museums and in the people that lived in all its unique buildings. It is an amazingly diverse place from the uptown boroughs of Charlottenburg to the grungy Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain and in my home-away-from-home; Prenzlauer Berg, it became a place I know and love, yearning every single day to go back to. The nightlife is second to none, constantly moving and evolving, its genuinely exciting to be a part of the city's young and energetic side. Similarly, the cultural opportunities are infinite, Berlin spends an eye-watering amount of money on the Arts and its Start-Up culture and that is beyond evident. There is something for everyone and it is one of the few places where you genuinely feel like you are at the centre of the world, with everything happening around and underneath you. It is a place with as much personality as any human being and you feel a genuine attachment to its stories and its development. I would encourage anyone going to Berlin to take some time aside to learn its history, from Prussian splendour to its utter destruction in the Second World War and its monumental rebirth in the present day, it truly changes how you see the place.   

Aside from the friendships and social development on exchange, learning how to operate and get about in a foreign country is a very character-building experience! I would implore you to learn a bit of German before and while you are here, its such a good opportunity to pick up the language when you're fully immersed. However, don’t stress, just about everyone in Berlin speaks English if you find yourself caught out with something important to say. But try not to rely on it, I got so much out of forcing myself to practice and keep speaking German to every German I met. 

Berlin was also a pretty central launch pad for me and friends to go and explore Europe and Germany when we had a lazy week or a free couple of days. The public transport is impeccable and reasonably priced, so there was no excuse not to pop into Prag or over to Hamburg when we got the chance.

In the end, I planned to stay another 6 months and take some time off of uni. I had the opportunity to work in the Microbiology lab at TU as a research assistant but unfortunately due to COVID-19, all my friends had to return home to their native home, my job was cancelled and I too was forced to come back. This has been immensely disappointing in more ways than I speak of here, but it has only hardened my resolve to one day soon return to this amazing city.


I lived in an apartment in the borough of Prenzlauer Berg, in the city's north. I would emphatically recommend an apartment over anything else despite the difficulty of navigating Berlin's rental market. It is genuinely hard to get an apartment in Berlin, there is a lot of demand and not a heap of supply so I would recommend to get online to 'WG-Gesucht.de' and start searching straight away. However, it is all worth it in the end to have your own space and your own unique experience. Each suburb is different to one another and each has its own little subculture that you get to be a part of. You don't get that particular experience in an on-campus set up, but that does have its pros as well. I had friends who stayed in Siegmunds Hof, the TU-Berlin on-campus accommodation for international students and while it is very cheap and you do meet a lot of people, it was not worth it for me to not have my own space. TU is very supportive if you do need on-campus living as they prioritise people furthest away from Berlin over those closer, just make sure you don't miss the sign-on email they send to you!

Having my own apartment let me host parties as well as live at my own pace when it was important to have quiet and comfort. Also, my apartment building had a left-over bomb-shelter that as a history student, was pretty cool.


Generally, Berlin is a cheap city even in Germany and was certainly cheaper than me renting and living away from home in Brisbane. I spent 420 Euros a month on rent, which was very average for Berlin in general, but a great deal for my area. Food and drink would easily be around 30% cheaper on average than Australia especially as Germany doesn't tax certain goods as we do here. Eating out was also way cheaper and the food on offer was amazingly diverse, Berlin attracts many nationalities and cultures. However, a night out was pretty expensive, get ready to pay 15-20 euro to get into a good club! In general, I'd probably budget around $10,000-$15,000 AUD for the whole thing, including flights, having fun and making little getaways when you can. This seems like a lot in a lump sum, but TU was very forthcoming and gave me and many other non-EU students a 1000 Euro scholarship without even applying – definitely ask about this as it seemed to have no criteria. Getting a cafe job is also possible on a student visa, and TU Berlin even offers 'student jobs' from time to time that are catered towards a student's timetable.


I genuinely had no big challenge when on exchange, I planned ahead, was used to living away from home and was motivated to make the best of the experience. German bureaucracy, in the department of registration with the city, tax numbers and getting a visa so I could stay longer was certainly laborious and very frustrating at times. There are great resources online from other Australians living in Berlin, the Facebook group by the same name was at times a very valuable resource! However, everyone you meet is likely to be going through the same things and its lovely to have people close on you to lean on, which I was lucky to have. The time you spend here will go faster than you can possibly believe, there is always things to do if you poke your head out the door and I never had down time to sit and be bored. Given this, problems I feared like being homesick never eventuated, I was simply always on the move and didn't have time! 

In fact, I feel the biggest challenge was deciding whether or not to stay longer in Berlin and forfeit a semester back at UQ. I was glad I decided to stay, it is just simply a pity that it didn't get to eventuate for me, but maybe it will be something you'll have to consider!

Professional Development

Going on exchange really helped motivate me into seeking out new opportunities and putting things in place to set out my future career path. On exchange I was able to establish a good relationship with one of my professors who had offered me a research internship for 6 months while I stayed in Berlin. While this unfortunately didn't go ahead because of COVID-19, I was able to help write the paper and get credited authorship which was something totally unexpected for me - getting to write a paper in my bachelors! It is these kinds of things that exchange helped me achieve. Being in a foreign place and studying at a foreign university, you're so much more likely to seek out ways to make the most of your time there, socially and professionally. I hope one day to return and complete a masters at the TU, or even attend the Charité to study Medicine as I made many acquaintances with people who had great experiences there. 

The whole exchange experience has really shown me that I am capable of achieving things like working in my field, and that there isn't anything between me and experiencing my potential work environment even while I'm studying. Getting to talk to people who are already at the top of their field, especially when you're interested in it, has also helped me consider where I want to go as I progress my studies and opened doors to potential new avenues to explore.


My absolute highlight of exchange was something I'd never have expected to have the opportunity to do. Having met so many interesting and diverse people in such a unique environment like exchange, I was invited to help organise and participate in a couple of art exhibitions. It was run by students who were all my friends and I was able to exhibit my own photography to an audience which was so much fun. I've never had a professional interest in the art world, but it was so enlightening to see a little snapshot of something that many of my friends were involved in and currently studying. Through the group we made, we've maintained contact and still share little projects and things we're working on and hope to be able to organise something again soon. 

Of course, experiencing Berlin and being able to travel around Europe is awesome, but for me the highlights are things I never dreamed of doing and it is these moments that I think come to define the exchange experience. Berlin especially is very much an environment that facilitates these creative ventures and if you get involved its sure to reward!

Top tips

Get into it, there is no reason to go on exchange and fall back into a normal pattern of going to classes and then going home, rinsing and repeating. There are so many things happening in Berlin all the time, both in and out of the University sphere and your time will be so much better if put yourself out there. Everyone is in the same boat and you'll be surprised how easy it is to break out of your comfort zone. 

Also, so you don't spend so much time stressing about bureaucracy; get organised! Look and think ahead, talk to people and see what they had to organise regarding accommodation, visa etc. Its the best plan to just work it all out as early as possible, so you can have things in place to just sit back and enjoy the ride.